Joe O'Connell, an artist based in Tucson, Ariz., who is working on art for the new TRAX Bingham Junction station, says that doing public art is a lot like completing a Sudoku puzzle. "Everything has to line up perfectly." For this one, he says, he wanted something that reflected the history of the area. He wanted it to be interactive for people who are waiting at the platform, but also appealing to people who only see it from the window of the train.
The story that he and his assistants, Blessing Hancock and Nina Borgia-Aberle, "have chosen to tell is inspired by the relationship between the railroad and the Bingham Canyon Mine and the resulting growth Midvale experienced."
Titled "Utah Bit and Mine," it involves two "interactive light sculptures that celebrate the mining and industrial history of Midvale." One is kind of like an X, the other like an O, which "literally and metaphorically represent mining, industry and railroad's relationship to them. They reference the past, yet are technologically advanced with broad appeal, modern materials and a forward-looking, positive message."
It will be in place when the station opens on Aug. 7, and is something, says O'Connell, that can be analyzed in many different ways or it can simply be enjoyed. "With public art, you don't want something that needs a decoder ring. Yet, it has to be able to sustain more scrutiny over time."
The best public art, says O'Connell, offers "something to hang emotions of your own on. It also works as a catalyst for interaction between people. It's there almost as a third member of the conversation to help stimulate talking, stimulate thinking."
TRAX station art is true community project, says Gerry Carpenter, UTA spokesman. "It's done in conjunction with local communities. The city pays a portion of the cost, and UTA offers matching funds."
If you've noticed some undecorated stations, it's because not all communities choose to participate, he says. "But we look on it as a long-term investment. We want our transit properties to reflect the communities. We want something artistic, pleasing to the eye that reflects the history of the area.
The Utah Department of Transportation has a similar goal, says Vic Saunders, spokesman for UDOT's Region One.
Some of the freeway overpasses in northern Utah feature "beautifully cut and shaped farm scenes, cowboy scenes that fit with this area."
He's the first to admit that overpasses can be rather boring. "The idea of the art is to enhance what would otherwise just be a dull piece of concrete."
The challenge they have, says Saunders, is to create something beautiful but not so complex that it is a distraction to drivers. "It has to be something appropriate to being seen from the roadway."
They hope it adds to the experience of driving. "We've heard from a lot of tourists who say they are unique and beautiful. They do catch the attention."
Investment in future
Public art has not been without controversy. Among the most famous examples of art that was not liked when it was first installed are the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., and the sculpted lions in front of the New York Public Library.
A minimalist sculpture titled "Tilted Arc" was removed from a plaza in New York City in 1989 when nearby officeworkers complained it interfered with their work. A piece called "Traffic Light" installed at a roundabout in East London caused some disruption at first because people thought they were real traffic signals. But by 2005, a survey named it the favorite roundabout in the country.
In Utah, an abstract painting by V. Douglas Snow that was installed in the State Supreme Court Chamber drew such negative comments that a curtain was placed in front of it, to be drawn when court is in session.
"Over the years, we've learned more about how to serve the community," says Glenn. And for the most part, he says, most people see public art "as a great investment of public dollars. It contributes in a small way to economic development, it enhances the quality of life, it adds deeper meaning to our experience. Public art appreciates in value." We are also lucky, he says, that our Legislature "had the foresight to include not only funds for art itself, but also funds for maintenance and conservation." Public art will continue to serve us for years to come, he says.
He echoes the sentiment of the Newport New Public Art Foundation, which says it well: "The impact of public art on a community is priceless and immeasurable. Public art has the power to energize our public spaces, arouse our thinking, transform the places where we live, work and play into more welcoming and beautiful environments that invite interaction. Public art can make strangers talk, children ask questions and calm a hurried life. It enhances the quality of life by encouraging a heightened sense of place and by introducing people to works of art that can touch them and generations to come."
That's what art can do.
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